USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Joe is a former college-athlete and coach at the NAIA level, where he earned an NAIA National Championship. Joe is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
If you think back to your freshman biology class, you might remember learning about mutualistic symbiosis, in which two different species benefit from their relationship with each other. In many ways, Division I coaches have a mutualistic symbiosis with coaches at the other division levels. They really do work together in a way that benefits each of their recruiting efforts.
It’s a small world when it comes to college coaching, so it’s important that student-athletes and their families understand the dynamics between DI, DII, and DIII coaches and how it could impact their recruiting efforts.
How do college coaches at various division levels work together?
Division I programs, especially in large, well-funded sports like football, often host evaluation camps where they invite recruits to their campus to compete in person—and also make some extra money for their program. However, for these camps to be sustainable, the coach needs to attract a large number of attendees. At the same time, college coaches at the Division II, Division III or NAIA level may not have the funding or resources to host their own camps. So, they often work together.
The Division I coach will oftentimes invite coaches from other division levels to attend the camp. The DI coaches benefit from the other coaches’ lists of recruits that they invite. Meanwhile, the other level coaches get an opportunity to watch their recruits compete in person without breaking the bank.
But wait, won’t these coaches be competing for the same recruits?
This arrangement works out so well because the Division I coaches and the coaches at other division levels are recruiting different athletes. DI coaches recruit farther out, scouting sophomores and even freshman. DII, DIII and NAIA coaches recruit the juniors and seniors who weren’t picked up by the DI programs. In some cases, DI coaches might find a sleeper athlete they weren’t recruiting and add them to their list of recruits. Additionally, the other level coaches will have the opportunity to scout the many talented athletes who just missed the DI cut.
Tom Mitchell, college coach community manager at NCSA, has 26 years of college and high school coaching experience, and has some insight on how these coaches work together at camps. “DI coaches will share athletes’ camp and testing information with DII and DIII schools. For example, if I was the coach at Wisconsin, I wouldn’t share my information with Northwestern, but I would share it with Lawrence University or Cardinal Stritch University.”
He explains that this relationship is particularly notable with high academic schools. Ivy League institutions will invite coaches from high academic DIII schools to their one-day evaluation camps. “If a student-athlete is looking at a high academic school, they’ll have a lot of great DIII schools there to choose from, as well.”
How can these coach relationships benefit your athlete’s recruiting?
While these coaches benefit from working together, student-athletes also have the opportunity to get the most “bang for their buck” during these camps. Coach Mitchell recently went through the recruiting process with his two sons who now play DI football. He explains their successful approach for getting the most out of camps.
Before the camp
Do your research to make sure that your student-athlete is attending a camp where there will be multiple coaches from schools they may be interested in. “Don’t forget to check out schools that might be your fall back or second tier option,” he explains. DI coaches typically email out a list of coaches who will be attending the camp, as well as post that information on their website.
Once you and your athlete have selected the camps to attend, have your athlete email each coach at programs they are interested in who will be at the camp. Your athlete should let the coach know they are looking forward to meeting them in person. They should also include a few key stats, a link to their highlight video and a link to their online recruiting profile. Coach Mitchell also recommends going to the school’s website and filling out the recruiting questionnaire.
During the camp
While it may be intimidating, your athlete needs to talk to the coaches at the camp. “They key thing from a student-athlete perspective is to make contact with the coaches,” Coach Mitchell explains. “They should bring a short athletic resume, introduce themselves and say they are interested in the coach’s program.”
These camps also provide athletes with a great opportunity to see different coaching styles. Their number one and number two school options might flip-flop based on coaching style.
After the camp
Coach Mitchell advises that athletes send a quick follow-up email to coaches after the camp, reiterating their interest in the program and sending them a link to their online profile. Your athlete should also try to set up a call with the coach, as well, to stay top of mind with the coach and keep their recruiting moving forward.
READ MORE: How to make the most of college camps